I hope you enjoy this week’s actionable insights. Hit Reply and let me know what you think.
When collaboration fails, use other forms of power
Collaboration is important, but what if you are interacting with someone who abuses power—not just once but over and over? Is this the time to employ (and practice) your skills in difficult conversation? It could be, but only once and mainly to ground your assessment about their abuse. After someone proves they don’t play fair even when you bring your best, it’s time to employ other forms of power.
This can be as simple as bringing into the room another person, often a senior leader with authority and resources you don’t possess. Recently, a client of mine (a senior leader in her own right) did this. Suddenly, the person giving her trouble started cooperating. It felt miraculous. And stuck.
Another approach is to use institutional rules. “Reporting” someone may feel awkward or even childish to you, but this is why rules exist, and sometimes it’s your best move. Years ago, a client of mine had a boss who criticized him harshly in public. One day, my client wondered aloud in front of the boss whether it was time to bring in HR. The boss not only cleaned up his act but entrusted my client with more autonomy over a customer engagement worth tens of millions of dollars.
These approaches don’t always work. All over there are people acting like assholes without repercussions. But, seriously, can you name anything in life that always works? Our goal here isn’t to guarantee a better outcome, but to improve the odds in getting one. As Greg Thomas explained to me, sure, life is a low down dirty shame—now, what are you going to do about it?
Here’s the lesson: assume the best in others until they give you consistence evidence otherwise. Then reach into your bag for other forms of power—and use them. You’ll get more traction, and the other person might just be nudged into better behavior that serves their long term self-interest.
What other forms of power have you used? Stories welcome.
“Is that paint or blood?” and other clarifying questions
Recently after repainting our red porch, I visited a nearby Mediterranean food cart for a late dinner. As I was preparing to pay, the owner pointed at me and asked, “Is that red paint or blood?” “Great question,” I replied. “It’s nighttime, and nobody’s around. You want to know who you’re dealing with. Makes total sense. And it’s paint.” “No,” he said. “It’s not that. I don’t care what you did before you got here. If it’s blood, I’ll need to wash my hands.”
Morals of the story?
1. When others ask clarifying questions, it’s not always obvious why.
2. When you ask a clarifying question, it can be useful to frame it with a few words explaining why you are asking.
What I’m reading
Healing Collective Trauma by Thomas Hubl. Some of us are learning to heal our own intergenerational trauma. For a good illustration, listen to my interview with Diane Woods about racialized body trauma and the work of Resmaa Menakem. Some are learning to empathize with others’ trauma. Consider the wakeup call many Americans received after George Floyd’s death and again now with the trial. Hubl’s book shows us how to bring light to the darkness, not by bypassing trauma but exploring it together with skilled and grounded guides.
One of the best lessons from this book: Own your part of trauma. Don’t own it all. And even with your own part, you don’t need to carry it alone.
From the Vault: “ASAP is a Four-Letter Word.”
I curse periodically with clients. It’s part habit, but mostly deliberate. People learn better when relaxed, and nothing relaxes the rational mind like a well-timed four-letter word.
But there’s one four-letter word you’ll never hear me say: ASAP.
In this short piece, I explain why.